Archangel Michael Pastry or “Feteer Al Malak“فطير الملاك is the perfect light vegan alternative to rich eggy Brioche. The pastry story has been rooted for centuries in the traditions of the Coptic Christian minority of Egypt.
Second to the church of Jerusalem, the Coptic Orthodox church is the oldest christian church. Similar to many religious communities around the world, the Copt Egyptian one has developed, over centuries, peculiar rituals that have impacted their cuisine.
Archangel Michael Pastry is one of these esoteric traditions, that I grew up watching my grandma dearly keep up. The tradition goes that the matriarch of every family bakes this vegan pastry to honour Archangel Michael, the prince of all angels and the most revered angel in Christian scripture. The matriarch would pray to st. Michael to deliver to the almighty God her prayers to protect the family’s children. Given its vegan nature, usually this pastry is baked during one of many periods of fasting in the Orthodox faith. Legend has it that prior to baking the dough, when it is left overnight to proof the yeast, St. Michael marks it with his sword to bless it.
Typically, my grandma used to bake this pastry a few times a year, whenever a family member was sick, applying for a new job or taking important tests, etc. The most beautiful facet of this ritual is that she was sharing these delicious pastries with her muslim neighbours as well as christians, knowing how equally venerated Archangel Michael is in Islamic faith.
The memory of this almost forsaken tradition vividly resurfaced in my life the day I sent my daughter to school for the first time. I helped her get on the school bus, waved to her with shaking hands and nervously watched the bus carry her away. Paradoxically, she looked fairly confident and contended in her bus seat, but I was torn and struggling with separation anxiety. For the first time since her birth, my daughter is taken care after by strangers. I walked back into the house puzzled and distracted! I found myself heading to the kitchen with my tablet, curiously browsing the recipe of “Feteer al Malak“. My grandma never wrote down her recipe, neither did my mom, but luckily some other women are nowadays posting theirs. I found one online that seemed promising. It was published by a Copt chef/blogger, I went ahead and started my “mise en place”. The recipe requires basic ingredients that are omnipresent in the pantry of any casual baker. I followed the recipe, yet I omitted the raisins and coconut that the online recipe calls for, as I prefer them plain.
The process of making the dough was a healing, meditative experience in itself. While kneading the dough by hand, I gradually released the tension. And in whispering prayers asking St. Michael I found relief. No wonder my grandma fairly often found a good reason to make these pastries. I opted to leave the dough overnight in the fridge (see notes).
From that day on, this pastry became a staple in my kitchen too. I bake it at the outset of every school year, in trying times, and at every significant milestone in my kids’ lives. What makes it even a merrier tradition, is sharing the pastry and its story with my all my friends and neighbours from every faith and walk of life.
Archangel Michael: Feteer Al Malak: فطير الملاك
Recipe adapted by chef Hanaa Fahmy
Makes 12 to 15 medium disks
1 kg or 8 cups all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of sugar, separated
Pinch of salt
2 cups water, separated
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons instant yeast
- Proof the yeast. Add two tablespoons of yeast and one tablespoon of sugar to one cup of warm water. Stir well and let the yeast proof in a warm dark place until it gets frothy and foamy.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a sizeable deep bowl.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add a cup of oil. Using your hands to mix in thoroughly the oil into the flour mixture until the latter looks like a wet sand.
- Dilute 3/4 cup of sugar in one cup of water.
- Turn on at medium speed a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast mixture gradually to the flour and then add the water sugar mixture. Turn the mixer off when a sticky, soft dough comes together.
- Brush the dough as well as a clean deep bowl with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a dark place.
- When the dough doubles in volumes, let it rest in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 270.
- Start forming the disks (115 grams each). Twist thin threads of the dough to form the crosses. Sprinkle them with cinnamon to make the cross shape/motifs pop up when baked.
- Brush the disks with oil to give them a shiny golden look when baked.
- Let the disks rest again for 20 minutes.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature with jam, cheese or zaatar.
- Letting the dough resting overnight, help the yeast to develop a pleasant flavour and aroma when baked.
- This dough is so forgiving and versatile. Get creative with trying different savory and sweet fillings. You can decrease the amount of sugar to 1/2 and sprinkle it with za’atar. Other possible variations for filling are chocolate chips, coconut flakes and raisins.